A rainbow banner signifying the launch of ACON's here initiative

For almost 40 years, ACON has been one of NSW's leading organisations for the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community, and their new digital suicide prevention hub is the latest demonstration of ACON's commitment to the community.

Funded by the NSW Government as part of the Towards Zero Suicides Community Response Package for people of diverse sexualities and/or genders initiative, HERE aims to provide information on suicide and situational distress by connecting LGBTQ+ people, their loved ones, and service providers in NSW to care, support and resources.

The path to launch has been determined yet delicate, but ACON Program Coordinator Samara Shehata says that's what it took to get it right.

"We started our consultations in December 2021 with the Rainbow Mental Health Lived Experience Network through funding from the NSW Mental Health Commission, and the work really began with around 44 active members of the network who were invited to our co-design consultations."

"We've had six different co-design consultations and they averaged around 1.5 to 2 hours of work. We've also supported the members to contribute in other ways like providing their stories for the website, and they've included rural and regional perspectives plus trans, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences."

Teddy Cook is ACON's Director of Community Health and says, "the bird's eye view of HERE's development has been so profound."

"I'm so impressed by the level of depth that the co-design process has explored, even down to the colour palette of the website which is a gentle visual experience that has been so well thought through. They've made sure that it's visually appealing, not overwhelming and as accessible as possible for someone who's in distress and needs information fast."

Teddy and Samara agree it is the breadth of lived experience voices contributing to the development of HERE that bring them the most pride in its launch and confidence in its success.

"The involvement of Sistergirls and Brotherboys, trans people of colour from the bush and the coast, has been particularly central to this work and I think it'll be even more effective as a result," Teddy says.

Samara explains that situational distress has grown into a more prominent factor in their work since the arrival of COVID-19, and that the timing of HERE's launch has been vital as those impacts become clearer.

"We're losing a lot of community members in the aftermath of the pandemic's peak. Our communities are experiencing collective grief, so we're continuing to look at how situational distress is defined and understood. Part of our challenge then is to translate the risk factors into accessible and affirming language for communities."

"We operate from the evidence base," Teddy adds.

"One of the things that was essential in the development of HERE was a scoping review that showed very clearly the magnitude and urgency of distress amongst our communities and why so many of us experience suicidality and situational distress."

But with those concerns comes an irrepressible enthusiasm and excitement for the potential of HERE.

"It's a wonderful thing, and it will always be a project that will live and be maintained. Something the community can connect to and provide feedback on," Samara says.

"Our lived experience stories are really going to highlight the diversities and differences across identities and how we experience different levels of discrimination or stigma, plus many of the barriers that people have in common."

"But the joy for us has been connecting to people with those experiences in our communities and putting together this amazing resource hub that will offer a lot of hope."

Here.org.au is now live.

Current as at: Thursday 23 March 2023
Contact page owner: Mental Health